Interview – From Middle-Earth to Opera
On February 27, 2002, I spoke with Marcus Siepen, guitarist from BLIND GUARDIAN,
calling from his home in Krefeld, Germany.
How in your own words would you describe "A Night At The Opera"?
Good question. [laughs] It's very heavy, it's very aggressive. And on the other side, it's
also very complex. It's a good mixture between the typical Blind Guardian stuff, like all the
huge choir arrangements and the huge harmony guitar arrangements and stuff like that.
But on the other hand you have more new influences. For example, "Sadly Sings Destiny" is
based on a heavy guitar riff, which is unusual for us. Also, the use of clean electric guitars,
also the percussion influences, not only played by the percussion instruments but also in the
rhythm guitar, is pretty new. So I guess it's a pretty good mixture between typical stuff and
Why did you decide to name it "A Night At The Opera," since there's already a QUEEN album
by that name?
[laughs] We had a working title for the album during the production, which was called
"The Soulforged", which is one of the song's name. But we never really liked that title as an
album title. We were thinking of something different. And a lot of our fans on the homepage
were discussing the possible title. Everyone came up with ideas like "Mystic Tales" and stuff
like that. We didn't want to have that again, because we had the word "Tales" in three
album titles before and we didn't want to have it a fourth time. So we were thinking of
something different. At that time we already had the concept for the front cover in our
minds, which shows a kind of fantasy orchestra performing in an orchestra pit at an opera
house. And one night Hansi came up with the idea, why not call it "A Night At The Opera"
because it fits to the cover concept, it fits to the music. We have so much orchestral stuff in
the music. And obviously QUEEN is one of our biggest influences, so it's kind of our little
paying tribute to them. Everyone in the band liked the title. It was totally different from
anything we had before. It just fits, so we said, "Well, let's do it."
The Blind Guardian-sounds seems to get ever more complex, don't you think that this might
prove too much for some fans?
Yes, definitely. We've seen that as the reaction of some fans. The album has been
available for download on the internet for 3 or 4 weeks, unfortunately. A lot of our fans
already know the stuff. It was the same when we released the single, "And Then There Was
Silence." A lot of people have been asking, "Is the whole album gonna sound like that?" No,
it's not. A lot of people told us that when they just listened to the album once, they didn't
really get it, it was too much for them. After one or two weeks, when they really sat down
and listened to the songs, they finally found out what was happening in these songs and
they started to like them. So, I know, it's definitely no easy-listening music. You can't listen
to them while doing something else. You have to concentrate on that music in order to find
out what's happening. The funny thing is, it's the same with us. When everybody in the band
listens to the CD, we find out new things that somebody else recorded. So at every rehearsal
we say, "Well, did you do this or that part?" "Yeah, I did that." "Oh, I didn't know that."
[laughs] It's definitely no easy music.
Well, I have the lyrics in front of me. I've been reading through them. To me, it sounds kind
of religious. Is it?
It's not really religious. One song is about Jesus Christ, but we've had songs about him
before, like "Banish From Sanctuary" is also about Jesus Christ. It's just ten different
stories, so there's no concept connection like we had on "Nightfall…" It's ten different stories
about things like, for example, as I said, Jesus Christ, two songs are about the Iliad, the
Wall of Troy, one song is about the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. One song is
based on a pure fantasy story. The song is called "The Soulforged." The interesting story is
that people at our homepage could vote for one of the lyrical themes for the songs and they
voted for the Dragonlance stories. The song "The Soulforged" is based on these books. So it's
just different stories, but it's not a religious album or anything like that.
With such a complex album, how did the recording-sessions go for it?
Very long. [laughs] Before we enter the studio and start recording, everything has to be
composed and written. Because when you try to start songwriting with this kind of
material in the studio, it's going to take forever, I guess. So, when we enter the studio,
everyone knows what he has to play. It's just a lot of work to record all this stuff. For
example, on the song, "And Then There Was Silence," there are up to 200 tracks on just one
song. Of course, obviously, the mix also takes some time. But it's just recording what has
been written before.
So, you're the guitarist, right?
One, we have two guitar players in the band.
So do you all have a hand in writing the music or does one person mainly do it?
The other guitarist, André, is the main songwriter concerning the music. But everybody
has his influence on it. Also, everybody can write other songs. For example, the song
"Harvest Of Sorrow," the second song on the single was written by me. So it's not that he's
the only one allowed to write songs. Everybody had his influence by, for example,
interpreting different parts or whatever. Of course, we talk about the songs. When he comes
with an idea, the whole band has to like this idea. So if one doesn't like it, we have to work
so long on this idea until everybody is happy, or if we don't come to this point, we forget
about this idea and start all over again. So in the end, it's a band decision.
When you're recording these songs, do you also have in the back of your mind how they
would transfer them to stage?
No. [laughs] It's two different things for us. When we write these songs and when we
record them, we just try everything that comes to our mind. If we think that some part
maybe needs, I don't know, maybe 30 guitar tracks and 50 vocal tracks, we record them.
Obviously, we can't reproduce this stuff live because there's just four band members plus
two guest musicians with us on tour, so it's going to sound totally different live. This
question occurred after every album released since 1990 [laughs], so it sounds much more
raw and energetic live and nobody ever complained. We just focus on the main melody lines
concerning the vocals and guitars, and it works. The good thing about a Blind Guardian
concert is that we always have a couple of thousand people in the front of the stage singing
all the choirs [laughs]. It sounds different live, but that's the interesting thing about a
concert for me, at least. If I go and see a band live and everything sounds exactly like on the
album, it's pretty much boring for me. So… it works.
What can we expect from the tour, then? You're touring Europe shortly?
We start the tour in the middle of April. We start in Europe. Then in the summer we have
to make a little break because of the soccer championship and summer vacation because it
doesn't make any sense to tour during this time. And all the rest is in the booking process at
the moment. The plan is to go to South and Middle America in August, then to Japan and
maybe Australia in September. After that, come back to Europe and do the rest of the
missing countries, like the UK and Scandinavian countries. And then, at the end of the year,
the plan is to go to the States finally, and maybe Canada. We have our first confirmed
States show, which would be the ProgPower Festival in Atlanta in November. That's going
to be our first US show. There will be more headlining show, but like I said, it's not booked
yet. As soon as we get confirmed dates, we'll announce them at our homepage so everybody
knows about it.
What was the reaction of your record label when you chose to release "And Then There Was
Silence" as a single?
[laughs] They were surprised. Obviously, it's not the typical single. You won't get any
radio airplay with that one, I guess. We invited them to the studio, played the song to them,
then told them, "Yeah, we want this to be the single." The funny thing is, they liked the idea.
We told Virgin [Records] the reasons for choosing that song, the first being we wanted to let
our fans know why it took so long - the break between "Nightfall…" and the new album.
When you listen to that song, you just know that it takes some time to write such a song and
also it takes some time to record it. We wanted to let them know that we are not lazy guys
laying in the sun and doing nothing. [laughs] And we wanted to give them as much new
material as possible. And with just two songs on that one single, you get twenty minutes of
new music, which, I guess, most of the people appreciated. And Virgin liked the idea. In the
end, the single was a huge success all over the world. For example, we've been number 1 in
the Spanish single charts. We kicked Robbie Williams out of number 1. From the day it was
released, which was in early November of last year, it's still in the top 10. We made it to
German charts, Japanese charts, Swedish charts, Canadian charts. We even made it to the
U.S. charts at number 172 or something like that. Everybody at Century Media was
freaking because it was the first single ever from Century Media to make it onto the charts.
So it was a great success.
"A Night At The Opera" has (discounting "Tokyo Tales") the least appealing cover of the Blind
Guardian-history. Gregory is a good artist, but in my opinion it does not live up to the classics
of the past. What has led to you turning away from Marschall, how did you get by Gregory
and what exactly do you want to express with the cover?
First of all, yeah, the cover created some confusion among the fans, also. [laughs] Why
didn't we take Marschall again? Marschall is a great artist and we're absolutely satisfied
with everything he did for us in the past. But he's slowly fading away from painting album
covers. He's more into the video business at the moment. So that's why we thought about
taking somebody else. We ended up with Paul Gregory, who did covers for bands like
Saxon, Uriah Heep and stuff like that. A friend of ours showed us his homepage and on that
he had some pictures of scenes from "Lord of the Rings," which totally impressed us. So we
just contacted him and asked him if he would like to do a cover for us. Well, obviously he
did. [laughs] We came up with the cover concept and we told him what we would like to
have-this kind of fantasy orchestra performing in an orchestra pit. Well, you know the final
cover. We are absolutely happy with it. It's obviously totally different from anything we
have in the past. So in the beginning, when people got to see this cover somewhere on the
internet, the first reaction of almost every fan was NO! This is a joke. This is not the real
cover. They must be joking. [laughs] Then we said "No, this is no joke. This is the cover. Deal
with it." In the first week they were totally going mad. They said that's no Blind Guardian
cover. Why didn't you take Marschall again and whatever, because it was so unusual for
them. But after a week or two, everybody started to like it because they got used to it. They
accept the fact that it is a different cover. So now everything's fine. Everybody likes the
cover. So I guess the problem is that they just had to get used to it because they expected
something totally different. But we wanted to have something different, we got something
different, and we're happy with it so, that's it.
A truly amazing fact is that you've been together for 15 years now, but there've been no lineup-changes
at all. To what do you attribute this?
Of course, we have the same problems that any other band has. We have arguments, we
have fights in the band. But if these kind of problems show up, we try to make everybody
happy in the band. If somebody doesn't like one of the songs, for example, we talk about
that and try to change the song into the direction that everybody likes. So if problems occur,
we try to solve them so everybody's happy and there's no real reason to fire anybody
because of just one problem. If I cause a problem in the band tomorrow, they could fire me,
take the next guy into the band, then have the same problem within two weeks. Just firing
anybody isn't the real solution to the problem. We try to talk about everything, and it
How has the success of Blind Guardian changed your private life?
The next year, especially for me and Hansi, is going to be difficult. Both of us have a little
son. It's going to be more difficult for me, now, because my son is six years old. Hansi's son
was just born at the end of last year. His son doesn't realize that he will be gone for about a
year or something like that. It was the same situation for me on the last tour when my son
was about two years old. He didn't really realize that I'd be gone for a couple of weeks then
be back for one week and gone away again. So my son isn't really happy at the moment
because he knows Daddy will be gone for a couple of weeks from April on. And that, of
course, is difficult. But on the other hand, in this kind of job, when you're not touring, you're
at home, much more than in any other jobs. Maybe that's what makes it more difficult for
my son at the moment because he's used to having me around all day. I mean, we have our
rehearsal room and studio right here, so I haven't been away since '98, actually. He doesn't
like the idea of me going on tour, but that's part of the job. The good thing is that he's big
enough now to come to a couple of the concerts and see me live and see what's happening
there. So that makes it a little easier for him. But that's the biggest problem for me at the
moment, to be away from my family. Of course, my wife also misses me, but she can deal
with that. But it's much more difficult for a kid.
Let's now talk about the movie "Lord Of The Rings". What is your opinion of that movie?
It's great! [laughs] I've seen it. Everybody in the band has seen it. And everybody loves
it. Even though some important scenes are missing. Before I'd seen that movie, I thought it
would be impossible to make a good movie out of that book because it's so huge and
complex, but I guess Peter Jackson did a tremendous job. As far as I've heard, the DVD
version is going to be one hour longer than the cinema version. It will contain all the
missing parts, which would be absolutely great. But the cinema version is great. All the
characters are exactly the way I had them in my mind. It's amazing.
What has been your best/worst/funniest situations that's happened with you and the band
that you could share with us and our readers?
Yeah, one of the worst situations. [laughs] We talked about that last week in rehearsal.
Ahhhh…. Back in '91 or something like that on the tour we did for "Tales From The Twilight
World." We played a show here in Germany. We had the introduction for the concert
running and we started the first song and after 30 seconds, I broke a string on my guitar.
Well, shit happens, change the guitar. Took my backup guitar, continued playing the song,
30 seconds later, I broke another string on this guitar. Well, great. Took the third guitar,
another 30 seconds later I broke a string on that one. And then I didn't have any backup
guitar anymore. My roadie - he hadn't fixed the first guitar yet. So I actually ran out of
guitars and I was standing on stage, didn't have anything to do. [laughs] It was horrible.
But most of the concerts are great moments, though. To me, the greatest thing is getting this
direct feedback from the fans when you play live. It's great to write songs, it's great to
record them. But in this process, you don't get the direct feedback. When we go on stage and
play the songs live, you get this feedback and that's the best thing for me. It's even better
when we play in countries where we haven't played before. For example, on the last tour,
we played in South America and Mexico for the first time and we didn't have any idea what
to expect in these countries. When we played the first show in Sao Paulo, we played in front
of almost 5,000 people totally going nuts when we started playing. They sang along on
everything. It was so great. I'm totally looking forward to the new territories on this tour,
which means the States and Canada and we play two shows in Russia. It's very special to
Do you have any pets?
No. I used to have fish - I had a fish tank. But I sold it a couple of years ago because
when I had to go on tour, all the work, cleaning and stuff like that, my wife had to do and
she didn't really like it. [laughs] So we sold it one day. So no pets. I guess my son will start
asking for pets soon enough. [laughs]
OK now. The traditional last question of "The Metal Observer"- interviews: What is your
favourite question about Blind Guardian that you never have been asked, but would finally
like to answer?
[laughs] Good question. Since we're stuck in the middle of promotion, I've heard, I don't
know, three million different questions over the last weeks. It's hard to find a question that
hasn't been asked. You have been asking very interesting questions, which nobody asked so
far over the last few weeks. You asked about the private life in connection with touring.
Most fans don't really think about that. They say it must be great to go on tour and see all
these countries. Obviously, it is great, but most people tend to forget about your private life,
which definitely has to suffer from that.
Well, our time is up. Thank you so much for your time. I really enjoyed it.
You're welcome. Anytime.
Editor: Cindy (www.metal-observer.com)